WASHINGTON — Poland announced Friday that it was submitting a revised letter of request to the U.S. government for eight Raytheon-made Patriot air-and-missile defense batteries for its Wisla program and hoped to finalize a contract by November.
But there are roughly eight months of negotiations left to get through before a contract is signed and Poland's demands for the buy pose some challenges.
This leaves other former contenders in the original Wisla competition, like Lockheed Martin, still waiting in the wings.
In the summer of 2016, Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz made headlines after he announced at a major Polish arms conference that he had formally authorized a letter of request for information be sent to the U.S. government to buy eight Patriot batteries to satisfy Poland's ever-rising need to expediently procure a medium-range air-and-missile defense system under the Wisla program in response to the perceived growing threat of Russian encroachment in the region.
Macierewicz specified that Poland would want the first two batteries to have Northrop Grumman's not-yet-fielded Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, included and the following six Patriots to have a new 360-degree radar, which Patriot currently does not have.
At the same time, Lockheed Martin and Poland's leading state-run defense group PGZ announced they intend to partner to develop an air-and-missile defense offering for the Wisla program. And a letter of request for information was sent to the U.S. government also asking for MEADS technology and pricing information, which caused a great deal of confusion over whether the Patriot buy was a done deal.
MEADS, or the Medium Extended Air Defense System, is a ground-mobile air and missile defense system.
Raytheon and PGZ had signed a similar agreement to develop missile defense technology as well.
Poland has long struggled to reach a procurement decision on the Wisla program since it expedited its plans to buy a new system in response to perceived Russian aggression several years ago. Initially in the running was Patriot, Lockheed’s MEADS system, Israel’s David’s Sling and an offering from a French consortium. The country quickly dropped the developmental systems — MEADS and David’s Sling — from the running.
In 2015, Poland seemed poised to buy eight Patriot systems, but an election in November upended those plans as the new government opted to reconsider recent acquisition decisions to include Wisla.
Since then, the Polish government has wrestled with its desire to quickly procure a high-tech air-and-missile defense system weighed against when such a system can be fielded, how much work might be brought to the country and at what cost.
Same as it ever was
The announcement Friday may sound like deja vu.
The Polish government also wants the first two batteries two short years after the contract is signed, placing delivery in late 2019 if everything goes to plan.
Poland reiterated its desire to have IBCS incorporated into Patriot batteries, even the first two.
Following receipt of the first two batteries in the configuration 3+ version, the final six would have a new 360-degree gallium nitride-based radar.
Also important is ensuring Poland will have meaningful work-sharing arrangements to produce the batteries in order to improve and grow its industrial base. The government wants to see at least 50 percent of the work done locally. The plan would create jobs in both the U.S. and Poland.
New sticking points
In the announcement on Friday, Poland has further clarified what is crucially important to the country should a deal be finalized.
For instance, the Polish government said it expects to spend no more than 30 billion zloty (U.S. $7.5 billion) for all eight batteries.
During the press briefing, Macierewicz said, according to a translation from Polish, that the previous preliminary terms could have cost up to 50 billion zloty, which was unfeasible.
Poland has also decided not to procure Raytheon’s Patriot missile variant, the Guidance Enhanced Missile-Tactical, or GEM-T, but rather focus on buying, and hopefully producing in country, a large number of low-cost interceptors called SkyCeptor missiles.
The U.S. government has authorized Raytheon to integrate SkyCeptor, a variant of the jointly developed Israel and U.S. Stunner interceptor, for Poland’s system.
Poland also plans to procure a smaller number of the more expensive Lockheed Martin-made Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles, or PAC-3 MSE.
The Polish government particularly wants to establish a robust manufacturing outfit to make SkyCeptor missiles that would not only serve the Poles but could be built for export.
Poland also wants a role to play in gallium nitride (GaN) technology beyond simply taking receipt of Raytheon’s next-generation Patriot active electronically scanned array GaN radar.
Tough negotiations ahead
Over the next eight months, there are variety of moving parts that could derail negotiations.
For instance, a waiver is said to have been granted for Poland to procure IBCS at the same time the U.S. Army begins to field it, rather than wait for the U.S. Army to reach a full-rate production capability before selling the system abroad.
But even with the waiver in place, the U.S. Army might not meet Poland’s timeline to receive its first batteries.
Software problems are causing the IBCS program to fall behind schedule, and the service has yet to determine how delayed it is. The Army was scheduled to achieve initial operational capability in fiscal 2019, but the Army put its production phase decision scheduled for November 2016 on hold as it resolves the issues.
Negotiations over what Poland might be allowed to do with GaN technology also remain: Raytheon has export approval for its GaN technology, but it’s unclear what kind of work can be performed abroad as opposed to stateside.
Moreover, if Poland wants the same 360-degree radar that the U.S. Army chooses for its future missile defense system, the procurement for the last six batteries face several hurdles.
For one, the Army’s schedule for procuring a new radar is uncertain. The service has yet to decide whether it will compete for a new radar or simply upgrade what it has, which would affect that fielding schedule.
Secondly, if Poland doesn’t want to have to wait for the U.S. Army to field its new or upgraded radar first, it would have to seek the same waiver like it did to procure IBCS.
Details on work share have yet to be either publicized or decided.
The feasibility of keeping the procurement cost capped at 30 billion zloty is another question mark, but something Poland is adamant about.
In a March 29 television interview in Poland, the country's deputy minister of defense, Bartosz Kownacki, said 30 billion zloty equated to roughly one-tenth of Poland’s annual national budget, which means all requirements need to be met in negotiations.
He also noted that while Raytheon is a front-runner, the government is still talking to Lockheed.
A statement from Lockheed issued Friday confirms that "MEADS International will continue discussions with the Polish government regarding a MEADS solution for Wisla."
Macierewicz on Friday stressed the hope is to sign the contract by year’s end provided that all terms laid out in the letter of request are met.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.